Paris, Selective Grief, and Outrage: When You’re Brown, Your Screams Make No Sound….





When You're Brown (1)

I am not dismissing the pain and suffering of France’s people right now. This post does not seek to do that at all. Regardless of nationality or ethnicity, I know the pain and suffering are real and I have deep empathy and sympathy and…

I am wondering why the USA mainstream media outlets have reported so much about the horrible tragedy in Paris and not so much about Beirut? I’m actually wondering if we can have a fruitful conversation about selective grief and outrage when it comes to the USA mainstream population’s response to certain tragedies…and the perceptions we have about ‘white-dominated’ nations versus ‘those darker nations’?

When the Kenya massacre happened at their Garissa University, I have to admit: none of my white friends heard of it or if they did, it didn’t seem to draw up a lot of grief and anxiety that it did with the brown and black friends in my circle. This is my personal experience.

If it had only been Beirut, would we be so deeply moved (and by ‘we’, I meant mainstream USA) by the tweets coming out of Lebanon?

My heart and positive energy go out to all those in Paris and Beirut, as well as all of those who have been victims of terrorism through the world…and even more to those whose stories will never make it to the USA’s mainstream news media outlets because often, When You’re Brown, Your Screams Make No Sound….Your Face Cannot Be Found…

No, France is not an all white country, but the narrative in the USA is that France is occupied by mostly white bodies and is basically a ‘white’ and ‘civilized’ nation. Not all the victims were ‘white’, but I wonder how the narrative of France as a ‘white’ nation plays into how tragedy is reported to the USA mainstream and how they envision the bodies/identities of those who were killed.

My apologies for not having the direct source…but I remember several years ago there were protests in France by an African immigrant community, because of the horrible ways they were being treated in terms of housing rights. I will never forget the image of a white French police officer attacking an African mom with her baby wrapped to her back who was simply protesting with a sign. He threw her down on the ground and she fell on top of the baby. That baby was crying after their head hit the ground. I was terrified that he could do this. I was terrified that he didn’t give a damn about the newborn baby attached to that woman’s back. As I type this I want to vomit, thinking about that rolling image that won’t leave my mind. I am remembering that that white police officer did not show any remorse about how he treated that woman and her baby. A newborn baby!!!!! This may seem like a random sharing, but it is not. I began thinking about how and why that was not considered ‘terrorizing’ her and why there was no outrage about that video footage in the USA or how the African immigrants were being treated/terrorized by the white French mainstream population. When she fell down to the ground and her newborn baby’s head smashed down onto the pavement, I couldn’t help but to think, “If I were there, protesting because my human rights were being taken away because I am Black or African, he would do the same thing to me. He would have seen me as deserving to be terrorized and no one in the [white] world would do anything about it…But I don’t have to be there for that to happen, as this could easily happen in the USA as well because it has already happened and continues to; it’s just not called terrorism and the brown bodied victims are not seen as ‘innocent.'” Black people are, by default, deserving of preemptive strike and do not deserve to have tears shed over them in the way that white ‘terrorized’ bodies do is what is usually depicted by mainstream USA media.

Last night I was outraged. I cried about Beirut. I cried about Paris. I cried about a whole lot more as I thought about all the forms of terrorism that happen every second…and how the mainstream in the USA are simply trained to mis-know terrorism in a very biased way (i.e. ISIS is terrorism only; i.e. all Muslims = ISIS;  terrorism is only done by brown and black people white people or white dominated nations could never enact terrorism).

[And yes, I expect quite a few people to express anger over my blog post. My intention is to point out what I see “as the obvious”… and I hope that these questions I have put out there can help some of us realize how unconscious bias influences us to ‘feel’ more for certain groups of people over others…and what actions we can actively engage in to not plant the seeds of terrorist actions (which include more than just ISIS, and can be found here in the USA. SPLC tracks groups with terrorist patterns/behaviors within the USA)] 


About the Author and The Sistah Vegan Project

Dr. Harper currently manages the Staff Diversity Initiative’s Multicultural Education Program at UC Berkeley and is the founder of the Critical Diversity Solutions. Check her profile out on LinkedIn. Inquire about Dr. A. Breeze Harper lecturing or giving a workshop at your organization, school, or business.


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4 thoughts on “Paris, Selective Grief, and Outrage: When You’re Brown, Your Screams Make No Sound….

  1. I cried too. I feel devastation and powerless over all the horrors regardless of the color, nationality, religion of the victim. Last night and still, I feel immense sadness for the victims and their friends and family. But I was immediately filled with dread and worry for what it also means for all those with brown skin. I’m scared of what more bigotry will mean for them.

    I think part of the reason why there’s been non-stop coverage of Paris and little coverage of what happens to those in other countries is because they are the US’s ally and most of the other countries aren’t. Even seen as our enemy.

    I’m glad you said something.

  2. I’ve seen a number of entries on twitter and facebook that do the sad and necessary work of emphasizing that the media (whether purposely or not) disseminates the message that some lives are more important than others by the way they report (or don’t report) on these horrific and terrible attacks. Making the connections that are so often unmade is a necessary step on the path to comprehending the system of terror and oppression that involves all of us. Thank you for writing about this. Interrupting the ignoring and the obliviousness is painful and sad…and much needed.

  3. Ever since 9/11, in the wake of which the left collectively squandered an opportunity to help people in the United States realize “this is what it feels like for everyday people when we drop bombs on other places,” I’ve been struggling for some way to talk about disparities in response like these that actually does lead to an expansion of empathy. What tends to happen instead is that those of us who are rightly indignant about, e.g., the comparative lack of sorrow for Beirut complain in ways that may ring callous to those who are experiencing sorrow for Paris. Not that you did that here, but I did see a lot of that on Twitter last night and, while I understand the impulse to simply critique the disparity and leave it at that, I find myself wishing for a way to connect the dots so that people who are, e.g., currently crying solely for Paris might be provoked to open their ears to other cries. Dunno if that makes sense. Not expecting that anyone has a magic answer to this problem that has perplexed me for years, just thought I’d throw it out there.

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